You probably already know that your skin reflects your general physical health, but did you know that it also reflects your mental health as well? This is called psychodermatology.
What is Psychodermatology?
Have you ever blushed? Experienced that unstoppable red flush that creeps up over your cheeks when you feel embarrassed or shy?
How often have you heard that a bride’s skin looked ‘flawless’, that she ‘looked radiant’ or was ‘positively glowing’?
These are examples of psychodermatology, how an inner or ‘psychological’ feeling has an outward or ‘dermatological’ expression.
The connection between the mind and the skin, the body’s largest organ, has long been central to wellbeing systems such as Ayurveda and Yogi, which promote caring for skin problems through meditation, exercise and breathing techniques.
In western medicine however, Psychodermatology is a newer and growing area of study that looks at the connection between skin problems and mental health, how the brain (neurological) and immune (immunological) systems are connected and affect skin health.
How Stress, Anxiety and Depression can cause Skin Problems
For many of us, varying levels of stress, anxiety and depression are a part of everyday life. Now research is showing how these mental challenges are affecting people’s skin health.
A recent study of 9000 children in Japan found a significant relationship between the severity of eczema and mental health problems1.
Other psychodermatology research has shown that patients suffering with skin conditions often have increased anxiety, that there is a relationship between acne and depression, and that stress can affect skin conditions including rosacea, hive, dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema.
The affects go both ways. While our mental health can affect our skin, the state of our skin can have a serious impact on our self-esteem and how we’re feeling. The explosion of social media has focused attention on our visual appearance more than ever.
How you Can Boost Your Mental Wellbeing
If you’re affected by a skin condition that’s impacting your mental wellbeing or causing you to feel self-conscious, you’ll be relieved to know there are simple things you can do to help make a difference.
One of the best things you can do for your physical and mental wellbeing is to exercise. Whether you’re lifting weights, running 5k or just going for a walk, exercise gets the blood pumping, which is great for your complexion as well as your body, and can help to change your mindset and build your self-esteem. If you can exercise outside in a green space or near nature, even better.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
An easy and effective way to improve how we feel about ourselves and the appearance of the skin is with a good night’s sleep. How much sleep we need varies between individuals, but 8 hours is a good target.
Quality is just as important as quantity. If getting to sleep is difficult, try journaling to get all those buzzing thoughts down on paper, some simple yoga moves to stretch out any stresses of the day, and deep breathing exercises – more about those later.
Minimising screen time before bed will help with an over-stimulated brain, while calming music and soothing aromas, such as those in our Sleepy Pillow Mist, can help you to unwind and drift off naturally. To help you stay asleep, try ear plugs and black out curtains to reduce disturbances.
Take a Few Deep Breaths
While breathing comes naturally, the amount of oxygen your body is receiving will differ, and there are ways to breathe that can help to improve physical and mental health.
Many of us have fast shallow breathing, where only a small portion of the lungs are used, which can mean we’re not getting enough oxygen. Try breathing through your nose rather than your mouth to increase the amount of oxygen being circulated in your body, and take slow deep breaths – holding the breath for a moment before exhaling through the nose. Here’s a link to four breathing techniques, if you’d like to find out more.
Be Kind to Yourself
All too often we’re our own greatest critic. Showing a little self-compassion can make a real difference to our skin health, mental and physical wellbeing. Pay attention to your inner dialogue – if you’re being hard on yourself, remind yourself of something you’ve done well, and that you’re only human and doing the best you can.
Some simple ways to help lift your spirits and boost your mood include remembering a special place, a favourite piece of music and an evocative scent. Making your daily skincare regime a reward and some well-deserved ‘me time’ rather than a chore. Again, journaling can help by reminding yourself of the day’s highlights – every day has at least one.
People with skin issues can easily become withdrawn. It may not be easy, but try to fight the urge to hide away. How much does it really matter to you how a friend looks? People are more interested in you than your skin. If your skin condition is enough to warrant comment, this is usually from a place of care and concern. You’re still the same person you’ve always been.
If you’re dealing with issues in your personal life, finding someone you trust to talk to can make a real difference. Just talking about a worry can help to give you a different perspective, and you may get some good advice and support – the adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is rooted in a truth!
You might also want to consider volunteering. Research has shown that people who volunteer enjoy greater wellbeing2.
However you do it, staying connected is an important way to help improve your mental wellbeing and the health of your skin.
Most importantly, remember that you’re not alone, support is available. Here are a few of the great organisations that can help:
The skin is just one facet of a person, and through Psychodermatology we know that encouraging good mental and physical health can make a positive difference to your skin’s health.
At Nourish London, we believe that we can help to make the world a better place through:
- Raising awareness of how we can take better care of ourselves and our environment
- Taking responsibility for our actions
- Practicing kindness towards each other as well as ourselves
- Providing help where we can, so if you’d like to know more, please get in touch
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1 Allergology International, Volume 67, Issue 4 October 2018, Pages 481-486.
2 Lawton, R.N., Gramatki, I., Watt, W. et al. Does Volunteering Make Us Happier, or Are Happier People More Likely to Volunteer? Addressing the Problem of Reverse Causality When Estimating the Wellbeing Impacts of Volunteering. J Happiness Stud (2020).